Sunday, April 25, 2010

Resilient Nature

Low temperature records in western Montana were smashed in early October, 2009, when thermometers plummeted into single digits overnight. For several days, low temperature records broke. September had been warmer than usual, and trees and bushes hadn't even started to change color. Everyone worried about the plants, whose leaves shriveled in place on their branches, as the hormones that weaken the bonds between leaves and stems never got produced. Normally, perennial plants undergo an orderly process to get ready for winter, withdrawing chlorophyll and nourishing sugars from their leaves and passing them on to the roots for winter storage. What would happen in the spring? Would branches and buds die? Would the plants struggle to come back when days lengthened and temperatures rose?

When I walked through my yard during the winter, I shuddered as I looked at the thin terminal branches of the trees--how could they survive the shock of that bitter cold? Would I have to prune away inches of dead wood and wait a year or more for the trees to come back?

I needn't have worried--despite their nasty early autumn surprise, my trees came back as beautifully as ever, with apricots leading the way. For me, this photo of opening apricot buds on branches with still-clinging dead leaves is a testament to the toughness of trees. Animals can move around to mitigate nature's surprises, but trees are stuck in place. They have to be adapted to rare events, even those so rare they've never experienced them before! My already deep respect for the resilience of the natural world has deepened even further.

Meanwhile, the wild world is also awakening to our late spring, with lovely buttercups blanketing sunny areas on the meadow in front of our home. I do love the spring!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Uneven Spring

Here in western Montana, Spring has taken its time arriving. After a couple of unseasonably warm days in early March, our weather was overly chilly and gray for way longer than normal. Signs of Spring were hard to find here on the outskirts of Missoula. Last week I rummaged through some dried leaves and found hope in these daffodil shoots just emerging from the cold earth. But north of us, on the same day in the little town of Arlee, a friend celebrated the arrival of spring big time with beds bursting with daffodils in bloom. This photo shows only a few of her actual thousands and thousands of these wonderful spring flowers.

The differences in microclimates here in the mountain west always intrigues me. My friend's garden is always ahead of mine, for she lives in a special little corner with a steep hill just behind her property to the north, which both shields her place from the cold wind and radiates sunshine's warmth into her orchard of peaches and cherries, trees it isn't worth trying to grow where I live. Even in my own yard I see differences. The front yard, which faces north and is partly shaded by the house, has yet to come alive, while the garden area on the south side is beginning to show promise.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Changeable Season, Changeable Place

I haven't written here since we returned from our winter odyssey, mostly because I'm come to realize that my blog is really a travel and photo blog, and my hometown of Missoula, MT, can be pretty boring photowise in late winter. The dead grass of the meadow across the street has been washed out by rain and frost, the pines' needles wear their black-green winter color, and the snow comes and goes. I call the place "Grayzoola" at this time, as the skies are almost always gray.

Now and then, we get some relief, as we did about a week ago. The sun came out, the air warmed, spring seemed on its way. On one particular day, light rain dampened the meadow grass, turning it golden in the rare sunshine. I kept glancing out the window, savoring the amazing color of the meadow, and suddenly a giant almost double rainbow glowed into being. I grabbed my camera and snapped away--here you can see the result:

Then, only a few days later, we awakened to a transformed scene, much more typical of this time of year, and to show the contrast, I once again took photos:

It can be quite disconcerting to see such radical changes in the environment in such a short time; am I having hallucinations? No, I'm living in the Mountain West! Then, in a few more days, the weather returned to its normal boring late winter state, with dead grass and gray skies. The only ways we know Spring is on its way is to go walking at an hour which would have been pitch black in January and to notice that the robins are back.

Friday, January 1, 2010

At Rancho la Puerta

After returning to the mainland, we visited family on our way south to spend a week in Mexico at Rancho la Puerta, a wonderful spa that has so much more to offer than a typical spa. My husband Greg gave cooking classes in trade for the week, while all I needed to do was choose among the many interesting, healthy and/or fun activities offered every hour during the day. We stayed in a beautiful cassita and learned qigong from Robert Rosenbaum, found out practical ways to resolve personal conflict from Peter and Susan Glaser, hiked, danced, and ate great vegetarian (with seafood) cuisine, all in beautiful surroundings. We also made a number of new friends we hope to keep in touch with, and we will return next year during the holiday season.